Saturday, September 10, 2005

Amongst the horror and suffering ...

Amongst the horror and suffering ...

There are some great stories of how people have coped

I have had enough of all of the negative press - all the finger pointing, blame-making and threats of legal action.

Fortunately here in Mississippi it seems that the local press, at least, have realised that such coverage was making people feel worse. Now they are concentrating on the more positive side of things - where power is coming on, what stores, schools, factories and other employers are getting back to normal etc. etc. But, perhaps most importantly, they are also concentrating on the energy and determination of the locals to rebuild and make the coast better than ever! Yes many people have lost everything, and many are suffering badly, but most are also looking to a better, brighter future.

So I want to share with you the story of how two friends of mine pulled together once the storm was over, how they helped neighbours, friends and tenants (they own a number of houses and apartments that they rent out), and how they made sure life was as good as normal during the time of adversity.

Ronny and Bill were brave (stupid!) enough to stay in Gulfport during the storm. They live about half a mile north of the railroad tracks that seem to have saved so much of the coastal towns from much worse devastation than they suffered. In fact they live very close to the house we own in Glufport, pictured earlier.

When the storm was finished and they realised the scale of the damage locally, the first thing they did was tour their various homes and check on tenants. Realising that many had left, and others were severely affected by the storm (one house was almost crushed by a huge oak tree), and that power was off and likely to be off for a while, they emptied everyone's fridges and freezers, and took all the food back to their own place where they had a generator and knew they could keep the food fresh indefinitely. Having done that, they then arranged to deliver food to each occupied home every day until power and food stores were returned to a degree of normality (by the way, why on earth is every tv and radio reporter, politician and soldier in the USA now saying normalcy instead of normality?).

They then spent the next few days tidying up their own yard, the yards of the various homes and fixing roofs. In fact Bill helped me get the tarpaulin onto our house in Gulfport, and in return I helped him do the roof on one of his apartment blocks. Good job I am not scared of heights ... just scared of falling off roofs ;-)

At mealtimes, Ronny cooked food not only for himself and Bill, but also for several of their neighbours - and me when I was about. Ronny is quite a cook, and can do amazing things with a propane grill!

While doing all of that, they spent time thinking in the evenings ... "how can we make this more bareable?". They had a small amount of spare power from the generator, so they could run fans in their bedroom at night in place of air conditioning. Like many houses in the USA, they have access to a personal water supply in the form of a well. Bill got some plumbing supplies and switched the house over to using the well water instead of city water. The water was not drinkable, but was fine for showers and washing clothes, so they used the generator to pump and heat water, and (oh bliss!) flush the toilet! Their neighbours got wind of this and pretty soon they had a parade of visitors every night taking a shower before bedtime!

They had reached this stage by the time I first went down to Gulfport last saturday - 5 days after Katrina hit. Ronny mentioned to me that the first thing he wanted to do when the power came back was watch a movie. I realised that we could do that right then. At home I have a big screen outside, and we use our data projector to play DVD movies on it after dark - see the picture below.

All I needed to do was bring the projector, a DVD player and my PC speakers down to Gulfport and we could watch a movie right there on their driveway. We borrowed a white sheet from a neighbour who was more than happy to lend us one in return for the food and showers. As you can see in the other pictures below, we managed to get the whole thing working just fine :-) Sorry for the bad quality of these pictures!!

It later transpired that the City of Gulfport was asking people to restrict the amount of water they put into the over-stressed (destroyed!) sewer system. But I am hope they would forgive desparate people their little luxuries ...

Our Gulfport house is OK

Our house in Gulfport is OK

Just a little roof damage

As with our home in the countryside in Saucier, our house in Gulfport got away relatively unscathed. The shigles are almost all off the roof, and there is a little water damage inside, but nothing that should be unrepairable.

As with everywhere else, the trees are devastated. You can see here that the two pine trees we had have both snapped because the wind was so fierce! The trunks of those pine trees are about 2 feet (60cm) in diameter!

Amy was thrilled to see that the oak trees are still standing, if a little battered. I am going to have to get in there with the chainsaw to tidy things up a little...

The square of wood that you can see in the center of this picture is the base where our 12'x14' shed was. Hopefully that adds a little scale for you too.

Speaking of trees and chainsaws, I had to get the assistance of a neighbour to help me clear a path up our drive in Saucier so we could get home. Tim was great about it, came out in 90+ degree heat in his shorts, sandles and t-shirt and spent about 2.5 hours sawing away. It was only towards the end that I realised he was wearing his sandles. "Used to do this for a living" he said. I'd have thought he would have known better than to wear sandles then, but apparently not :-)

In the picture below you can see my car to the left, and if you look carefully you might just make out our house behind the trees that lie across the driveway. It's not clear, but the trees that are down are two of the big pecans we lost. The big tree on the left os one of the ones that survived.

Home again, home again

Home again, home again

Now the work starts!

We got home Friday evening - it's great to be in your own bed in your own home, even if everything is upside down outside. How much have things changed? Well, as I already said we really suffered no significant damage from the hurricane to our home, but we awful damage to our property - take a look at these before and after images taken just a few weeks apart ...

It's not totally clear there, but we lost 5 or 6 large pecan trees, as well as one old oak tree and probably scores of younger oak and pine trees. The pecan's could have been a couple of hundred years old But look in the background of both pictures and you can see that what was once full of dense undergrowth and a rich mixture of trees has now been flattened. It is like this everywhere around where we live and for tens of miles around. We live around 20 miles from the sea shore at Gulfport, and the damage caused there is even worse. It is not difficult to imagine the damage done by strong winds in a storm - I am sure you have all seen what can be the result of heavy winds. But it is hard to comprehend the kind of storm that can inflict that sort of damage not just on a few houses here and there, but on almost every house and business along the coast of Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and parts of Florida, and for hundreds of miles inland.

I'll be posting some more images over the next few days. I'll probably put up a more detailed before/after album when I have the time.

Meantime I have had to buy a more powerful chainsaw to cope with cutting up the pecan trees (hardwood) and scores of oak and pine that litter our property. If anyone really wants to help us now we know our home is OK, we can offer you food, lodging and a week of chainsawing and clearance work for anyone who wants to enjoy a break in the Mississippi sun ;-)

Monday, September 05, 2005

All is fine

Relax, everythuing is fine

We still have a home!!!

So I have been down to Gulfport. All of our property is fine, but we have loads and loads of trees down. I took some photos and was going to post them here with before/after images, but I lost my camera.

I lost the camera when I had to run away from a crowd of angry bees! I suffer an allergic reaction to their stings, so when I got a dozen or so stings I panicked and ran through the woods. No doubt I will find the camera one day, but right now I don't want to go back to where I was stung.

I am annoyed at the current news coverage here in Mississippi, and nationally. It is full of heavy criticism of how badly the government handled the aftermath of the storm. Newspaper and tv coverage is full of images of the defvastation. There is nothing positivre being written or depicted anywhere so far as I can see!

So let's set the record straight - when I drove down to Gulfport there were literally thousands of people heading to the coast tohelp. They had fule, generators, food, water ... the effort to help is outstanding! The work already done to clear trees - all major highways are clear of trees, and most minor too. And the electric is coming back on. Water and sewerage is coming back on ... the repairs still have a long way to go, but no-one should be in any doubt that there is not a huge assistance effort going on.